Prison guards desperate for backup

Rosie
Rosie Mullaley
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Say they need help in dealing with increasing violence at HMP

Someone is bound to be killed if something is not done about the dangerous situation at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP), correctional officers told The Telegram Thursday.

Speaking anonymously, three of them insist it’s time the government did something to help provide better protection to staff and inmates, both of whom fear for their safety in a volatile environment.

Sunday’s violent melee was a prime example of how things can quickly go terribly wrong at the facility, they said.

Around 4:30 p.m. that day, nine inmates armed with homemade weapons reportedly attacked accused murderer Kenny Green in the facility’s chapel before a Salvation Army service.

Several inmates, including Green, suffered minor injuries and were taken to hospital, but guards said things could’ve been a lot worse.

“Kenny Green would’ve been dead if it had not been for correctional officers,” one guard said.

“No doubt he’s tough, but we put our lives on the line to save his.”

The officer said only one staff member was in the chapel when the fight broke out, along with three clergymen. None of them were injured.

By the time RNC officers got there, correctional officers had the situation under control.

“It was insane,” the guard said. “It was everything you’d expect to see in a movie, not in real life. There was a lot of blood.”

The officer said while dealing with dangerous offenders is part of the job, things have gotten out of hand. The guards say the aging facility, lack of equipment and lack of resources are causing security concerns.

“The violence is getting worse and we’re not equipped to deal with it,” the officer said.

“We realize we’re going to face certain situations, but for God’s sake, give us the tools to deal with them.”

The officer said staff need to be armed with pepper spray and batons at all times. Currently, they carry such equipment only in certain areas of the prison at certain times.

“The type of inmate we’re dealing with these days is different than years ago.

“It’s absolutely shocking what goes on there, and we want to be prepared the best way we can if something goes wrong.”

Guards also say resources need to be better allocated.

“There’s sick leave and stress leave and some are on escorts outside the building, so when the shit hits the fan, there’s few left to deal with it.”

The need for a new facility has never been greater, they say. They say the prison — the oldest section was built in 1859, with renovations done in 1981 and 1994 — is deplorable, which makes it a depressing and stressful environment to work in.

Justice Minister Darin King told reporters this week the government is continuing with plans for a new prison.

But correctional officers say they’ll believe it when they see it.

“We’ve been hearing that for years,” the officer said.

“Even if we do get a new one, we won’t have a new prison next month or even next year. We need something done now.

“Health and safety and workers’ rights should have no price tag.”

 

Police get new facilities

A second correctional officer said it was difficult to see government officials proudly displaying the new Royal Newfoundland Constabulary building this past week while HMP staff have to work in such an outdated facility.

“It’s like a Third-World country down there,” the officer said. “It’s ridiculous.”

The officer said correctional officers feel forgotten by the government.

“Correctional officers saved a man’s life Sunday. Staff acted as human shields. But the Justice Department doesn’t seem to care.

“An inmate or staff member is going to be killed if something is not done now.”

A third correctional officer said since Sunday’s incident, “tensions are at a maximum.”

“It’s a tough place to work at the best of times, but it’s especially bad now. People are expecting the worst at any minute, and it’s scary because we don’t know if we’ll have any control over it the next time.

“I don’t know of one (staff member) who went home that day and didn’t hug their spouse or their kids extra hard.

“We’re lucky it ended the way it did. Bruises and cuts heal, but some things don’t.”

The officer said some guards are off on stress leave as a result of what happened. Morale is down and they want the government to hear their pleas.

Burt Blundon, the secretary for NAPE, the union representing correctional staff, said Thursday they’ve been asking the government for a year for adequate resources for HMP.

“It’s an old facility that doesn’t lend itself to high-level, maximum security,” he said.

“There’s no other way to describe it other than a dump. The minister has said they are looking into constructing a new facility, but talk sometimes is cheap …” Blundon said.

“Do we need somebody to die before something is done?”

While the Justice Department said it is conducting an internal review of what happened Sunday, Blundon said it’s not the first serious incident that’s happened at HMP.

“It’s the fourth review in three years,” he said. “How many do you need? They’re reviewing it to death. We can’t wait for another one.”

 

rgillingham@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelyCourt

Organizations: Salvation Army, Justice Department

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Joe
    February 14, 2014 - 16:29

    With all due respect people are here dissing on rnc , sit back and think these guys are on the street busting criminals that have more powerful and armed weapons than the rnc , and you guards deal with them with no weapon , if an inmate does have a weapon it probably means guards are not doing there job of searching and regular walk through of the site to be picking up on this stuff and just for the record did you really think when you wanted to be a correctional officer you were gonna be working at a daycare ???? Come on guys

  • Jennifer
    February 14, 2014 - 15:57

    I can't imagine what those correctional officers...not guards....are feeling. They get shit on by inmates daily, which is to be expected( they're inmates) , but when needed, they put themselves in danger to protect an alleged murderer...that's the definition of a professional! These people need to be thought about, they need pay raises, and a new work environment...I also hear that senior management knew this was going to happen??? I guess the fact that this info was NOT passes on to staff, shows just how much they are valued! Contract negotiations are underway for the officers...give em a raise, and show them we, the public appreciate them keeping us safe from the shit rats!

  • soberthought
    February 14, 2014 - 15:35

    Correctional Officers need support. They are not getting it from management. Most of these COs are highly trained through recognized programs. In fact some will be shocked to learn that a CO training program in Holland College PEI is 3 months longer than the RCMP training in Regina. But with all that training they still require tools to do their jobs. They also need support from Management. They are getting neither. I find it scandelous to learn that management staff were aware that this incident was going to happen without informing the COs. Heads should and need to roll over this derelict of duties by Management. Get off you high horse Minister King, make some changes.

  • Ambros
    February 14, 2014 - 15:16

    This comment is to the minister of Justice ( the corrections officer's boss), well done Mr. Minister, last night on CBC you were unavailable for comment, but on NTV you were sharing a joke and curling with Snook....PROFESSIONAL Mr. minister! Corrections officers deserve more from their boss. WELL DONE!!!

  • Ambros
    February 14, 2014 - 14:50

    At hmp, over 50% of their inmates are Federal, mostly medium and maximum rated. The department of corrections are not even following the federal standard for escorting their inmate!! The Commissioner's directive for federal corrections states 566-6 Security escort state...General 11. For ground security escorts of maximum and medium security inmates: a. two officers, both armed, shall be deployed for all armed security escorts for maximum and medium security inmates; H.M.P flatly refuses to follow the guidelines of the inmate that the pen is escorting, there by putting the escorting officer, inmate and public at risk

  • Ambros
    February 14, 2014 - 14:42

    For those that are reading these comments, you have to remember that you probably have a friend or relative in law enforcement, or personally know someone who works at the PEN! The life of a corrections officer is far from glamorous. There are no parades for them, no monuments in the city center. The only time the community hear about corrections is usually negative. Believe you me, corrections officers are well aware of what the community thinks. I know of one officer that went through Tim Horton's just after they got their new uniforms and the attendant said the coffee was free, the officer asked why, the attendant said your police right, no I am corrections, oh, that will be $1.55!!!! Corrections officers deserve to be Armed, equipped and treated with dignity. Isn't that what everyone wants.

  • Mike
    February 14, 2014 - 11:43

    New prison & better equipment? There are officers down there now that don't even have adequate uniforms! RNC members upon starting work are given a full uniform strip of everything they need. Our new officers are given used uniforms from other officers, & are left with whatever they've got for other items. It's disgraceful.

  • Mike
    February 14, 2014 - 11:33

    New prison & better equipment? There are officers down there now that don't even have adequate uniforms! RNC members upon starting work are given a full uniform strip of everything they need. Our new officers are given used uniforms from other officers, & are left with whatever they've got for other items. It's disgraceful.

  • owen
    February 14, 2014 - 11:05

    Cy everyone knows that HMP is the toughest job to work in NL. The RNC do drop them off and have guns to convince criminals to get in the cuffs much easier. I support the officers down there and live near the pen and see the ambulances etc... going in there three to four times a week. Also saw when fire trucks were there when staff cars were firebombed earlier this year.

  • owen
    February 14, 2014 - 11:04

    Cy everyone knows that HMP is the toughest job to work in NL. The RNC do drop them off and have guns to convince criminals to get in the cuffs much easier. I support the officers down there and live near the pen and see the ambulances etc... going in there three to four times a week. Also saw when fire trucks were there when staff cars were firebombed earlier this year.

  • owen
    February 14, 2014 - 11:00

    HMP handled all incidents themselves. The RNC are only called in for investigation and support such as patrolling the perimeter or hostage negotiation. HMP has an ERT team fully equipped but they cant be on standby 24 hrs a day . The best policy would be to equip all staff with batons ,oc spray at all times while working . They are involved in numerous training courses and often handle incidents themselves that the RNC wouldn't do without back up or drawing a gun. The RNC drop them off at the lockup and go to TIMs while the HMP staff deal with them daily outnumbered and amongst them. Time to take a look at the management down there , when Mr. Roche retired all hell broke loose.

  • Frank
    February 14, 2014 - 10:53

    Thomas you have no idea what your talking about its done at the white house just outside the pen.3 people are on the selection committee of which 2 are "white shirts".There are people working there that never have completed a correctional officer course.The govt ran a rinky dink course because they could get no one elese and who trained them was the people who never had the course lol..True story my friend and worth checking into.

  • Cy Anthony
    February 14, 2014 - 10:39

    JUST SAYING.. Judging by some of the comments it seems like some of the "old" guard at the Pen are still jealous of the RNC just like they were years ago. Get over it. Move on. You aren't doing anything to help the cause when you say the RNC drops of the inmate and then heads to Tim Hortons. Who do you think put handcuffs on the guy in the first place?

  • Justic
    February 14, 2014 - 10:36

    If the Justice minister thinks it is not that bad, let him walk through the place, alone.

  • Out Looking In
    February 14, 2014 - 10:20

    Looks like a prime example of mis-managment.. There appears to be a culture of us versus them and that's not Correctionl Officers against inmates. Management is making every attempt to undermine CO's basic rights as an employee. There are rumors of sexual harrassement against female officers by managers/Captains, managers abusing their authority by not approving annual leave, family leave and sick leave. Inadequate protective gear is not provided and information related to safety and protection of staff is not provided in a timely matter. . There was an earlier comment about hiring practices of only family and friends. They may have been an issue in the past, but the 'old boys club' are now in management positions , and they are only concerned about themselves. Nothing less than an all out review should be done at The Pen with nothing less than a clean sweep of managment staff. Only then will things improve. They dropped the ball on this most recent incident.

  • Praying Menaces
    February 14, 2014 - 09:57

    Sure, Justice Minister Mr. King says he can't do anything at all to discourage unlicensed people from wracking up fines for driving uninsured, unregistered and uninspected vehicles. You don't expect him to be able to solve this problem, do you?

  • Justice?
    February 14, 2014 - 09:53

    Sure, Justice Minister Mr. King says he can't do anything at all to discourage unlicensed people from wracking up fines for driving uninsured, unregistered and uninspected vehicles. You don't expect him to be able to solve this problem do you???

  • yo mama
    February 14, 2014 - 09:50

    Hang the worst of the worst, like they do in civilized countries, problem solved.

  • Colin
    February 14, 2014 - 09:48

    I had seriously considered being a Correctional Officer and hoped to work here in the province. This has changed my mind. Sounds like going to work every day is like walking into a firing squad with no protection. Time to look at other careers that aren't so risky and dangerous.

  • Like
    February 14, 2014 - 09:31

    Like most govt staff, they won't complain in public, and mgmt know it. Why not get the inmates clean up the place? If they say no, leave them in their cell. If they want out, they have to work. It must be depressing to watch a new RNC building and look at what they have to work in.

  • Angus
    February 14, 2014 - 09:17

    Why haven't the guards been issued Tasers?

  • darrell
    February 14, 2014 - 09:11

    As long as one of the guards doesn't get hurt I could care less if any of those dirt bags do the job on another dirt bag.

  • Old Guard
    February 14, 2014 - 08:43

    Management at the Pen are reluctant to move "federal" inmates to federal institutions because of the revenue generated by housing these inmates. The Justice Department receives a daily federal housing allowance equal to the cost of housing an inmate in a federal institution, so this probably generates hundreds of thousands of dollars each month. So in any event the federal inmates are going nowhere. That being said, remand inmates are not sentenced so the only option is to house them at the pen. But the big question here is why where they conducting a church service with remand and sentenced inmates? They should not have been in the same room. Use some of the federal revenue to hire more staff, maintain adequate staffing levels and provide proper equipment. Correctional officers are entitled to a safe work environment! !Heads should roll!!

  • Terry
    February 14, 2014 - 08:18

    Staff there are silent for fear of repercussions from Management. Decades of Darkness was a cure for the select few. Someone will die there before anyone makes changes. As for sending the Dangerous guys to the Feds....the Province get paid by the Feds to keep those guys here in the Province ... Federal Money the Provincial Government doesn't have to put in.

  • Terry
    February 14, 2014 - 08:07

    Staff there are silent for fear of repercussions from Management. Decades of Darkness was a cure for the select few. Someone will die there before anyone makes changes. As for sending the Dangerous guys to the Feds....the Province get paid by the Feds to keep those guys here in the Province ... Federal Money the Provincial Government doesn't have to put in.

  • Frank
    February 14, 2014 - 07:49

    They need better trained officer's down there.The next thing they will be looking to do is carry firearms.Stop hiring family and friends and whom I mind you, have little training but If you know a white shirt your in the door.

    • Redgrave
      February 14, 2014 - 08:11

      You're right Frank. This hiring of family and ftirnds is a problem everywhere, not just at the pen. It's one of the main reasons people leave Newfoundland and never look back. Qualifications mean absolutely nothing., especially in such a lazy "what do I get" society.

    • Thomas
      February 14, 2014 - 08:19

      Now Frank that's a rather silly comment. The days of the old boys club are long gone. Knowing someone might get your resume on someone's desk but that's about it. The hiring process occurs at the Public Service Commission. Consideration for employment is based on qualifications and experience. Your comment is rather insulting to those who work there and in corrections in general. Today when a fight breaks out at the Penn their only recourse is to call the RNC riot squad and hope no one gets killed during the wait time.

    • The real facts
      February 15, 2014 - 07:39

      I like living in a free country, but unfortunately, it gives even people who don't have any idea what they are talking about the opportunity to write nonsense on the internet as fact. There is no "Old Guard" protecting and hiring friends, if those days existed, (which they likely did), those days are gone. Corrections staff are highly trained and professional, and DO NOT pick up a phone and call the RNC when things get out of hand. The prison system is just like any other government department, with a legal obligation to report crimes that take place. Corrections staff deal with these situations almost entirely on their own, RNC check their weapons at the door, just like anyone else, all they do is take statements and collect evidence. Correctional staff are capable individuals, they only ask that they be given the resources to do what needs to be done safely.

  • Concerned
    February 14, 2014 - 07:44

    The public has no idea what staff are exposed to at HMP. It's about time the union is speaking out and giving the staff a voice.....LONG OVERDUE!!! and somene will be killed there...no doubt about it. The staff need to take action NOW !! refuse to go to work in such an unsafe place!!!

  • Retired officer
    February 14, 2014 - 07:38

    HMP houses many inmates who are violent offenders . Its not 2 years less a day like people think. About 55-60 percent of the prison population in St. John's are Federal inmates . There are people in there for murder,attempted murder,armed robberies ,rape ,muggings,child molestors,serious assaults such as stabbings etc... They only ship three or four Federal a month and therefore there is a huge number of federals left . Its a medium -maximum security prison down by the lake and people would be frightened if they knew what goes on in there. Its a very dangerous place to work and staff have urine and feces thrown at them sometimes too. The staff lunchroom may have working toilets at times ,if theres water and there is mould on the walls . In the older part you have to wear a jacket its that cold this time of year. My coworkers work the toughest beat and in the toughest conditions to protect the public but are often forgotten . Do you think the RNC would have to work in these conditions and get so little respect . They drop them off and go to Tim Hortons while we deal with hundreds of them daily and work amongst them with little backup or protection. Time for the management and government to wake up before a major tragedy occurs. Too bad RNC chief Johnson isnt running the place! At least he looked after his workers and never looked down on them like some managers at HMP do. Support your workers who often experience PTSD symptoms , it is prevalent amongst corrections officers worldwide. Give them the tools and support to do their jobs.

    • Robb
      February 14, 2014 - 10:55

      Hey Mr. Retired officer.......this is certainly a bad situation, but mostly what I want to say is that I think you people (Guards, RNC, RCMP) are the real heroes, and you certainly have my respect. I think you people take the brunt of everything, and are the fine line between criminals and the common folk. The state of the pen is certainly disturbing, and I mean for you, the workers. I hope it does not take a death in that institution to get things moving on a new facility. God bless.

    • Supporter
      February 15, 2014 - 08:34

      I support all levels of first responders- Corrections, RNC, RCMP, EMS- and others...they need help down there no doubt...policy and procedure development first and foremost that is up to par!!

    • Supporter
      February 15, 2014 - 08:35

      I support all levels of first responders- Corrections, RNC, RCMP, EMS- and others...they need help down there no doubt...policy and procedure development first and foremost that is up to par!!

  • Bigfellow
    February 14, 2014 - 07:34

    What ever happened to the Pen in Harbour Grace idea? I moved away a long time ago but I remember them breaking ground.

  • Thomas
    February 14, 2014 - 06:49

    In my opinion the Penn was never intended to support the type of criminal population there. Get rid of the 2 years less a day nonsense and send them up a long and make it a Federal problem - seeing that the Fed's find no need to fund the construction of a Federal Penn.

    • Comrade
      February 14, 2014 - 07:33

      I agree with Thomas. Judges should be handing out less of the 'two years less a day' sentences. Send them to the federal system and let the Federal Govt (which has broken promise after promise to help build a new pen here in NL) deal with them. As for family members who want their antisocial kin close by - too damn bad - not society's problem